Exclusive: End of an era as DfT drops self-assessment process

09/10/2023
Dominic Browne

The Department for Transport (DfT) has ended the highways self-assessment process, removing the incentive element of local maintenance capital funding in its current form, Highways understands.

Senior sources have said that self-assessment 'has been dropped' and when asked directly, the DfT did not deny that it had run its course.

One source told Highways that a bid had been submitted to the Government for a third party to manage the Incentive Fund self-assessment process on behalf of the DfT and the UK Roads Board. Months later officials confirmed the bid was being rejected because the process would not be continued, Highways understands.

Highways first reported in February this year that the self-assessment process had gone to a ministerial review. It now appears a de facto decision has been made.

A DfT spokesman stressed that the original highways maintenance incentive element was not being abandoned as it was only designed to run between 2015/16 – 2020/21, and was extended by an extra two years to mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The spokesman added that the department was still keeping the highways maintenance incentive element under review and suggested potential ways that it could be developed in the future.

As all local authorities now report having incorporated a risk-based asset management approach, further work was needed to develop how local authorities are encouraged to continue adopting new technologies, methods, and processes to achieve best practice, the spokesman said.

The Incentive Fund self-assessment process was launched in 2015 as a means of incentivising certain elements of highway maintenance, particularly effective asset management.

An original set of 22 questions was used to rank highway authorities into three bands with different amounts of cash allocated based on the different levels. The funding came from top-slicing the capital maintenance money from the DfT. 

Over the COVID years, additional voluntary questions about sustainability were added to the initial self-assessment questionnaire.

Assurance of the self-assessment process was provided by validation of returns by the authorities' Section 151 officers.

After initial scepticism, the sector largely came around to the benefits of the scheme but in later years, as almost all authorities achieved the highest band and maximum amount of payment, some suggested a more rigorous validation process was needed.

The prospect of randomly selected local audits never materialised, however, due to a lack of funds or the capacity to carry them out.

The self-assessment process grew from the Highways Maintenance Efficiency Programme - a government-funded effort to create and share a standard toolkit for good practice and asset management in local highways.

HMEP was launched in 2011 and was also effectively discontinued by DfT when it withdrew funding in 2016.

The programme went to seed after the incumbent responsibilities were separated among the sector to groups including the Local Government Association and the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation, though the toolkit is still used.

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